Belfast Telegraph

Defence Forces stand by recruitment

Members of the Defence Forces have defended the hiring of 500 new recruits during a Garda staffing freeze.

The representative body for troops said it was surprised at comments by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) which appear critical of the recent decision by the Government to recruit new army, navy and air force personnel.

The Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association (PDFORRA) said the appointments were long overdue, as the Defence Forces was more than 700 below agreed strength levels.

In a statement it said: "The Defence Forces make a massive contribution both at home and overseas, which involves an ongoing commitment to the United Nations and the EU. Over the past 20 years, the Defence Forces has undergone significant change and restructuring and this has resulted in a significant drop in the numbers of serving personnel.

"Barracks have been closed all around the country at major inconvenience to personnel and their families - and despite the significant changes the Defence Forces stand as one of the most respected and sought after contingents on UN mission."

More than 500 Irish soldiers are deployed in peacekeeping missions in 14 countries across the globe - from the Congo to Kosovo and Afghanistan to Uganda. Members in Ireland tackle a record number of bomb disposal call-outs, search and rescue operations, air ambulance missions and patrol the Irish seas.

Damien McCarthy, outgoing president of the GRA, which represents more than 11,000 grassroots officers, this week mocked justice minister Alan Shatter for recruiting soldiers during a Garda staffing freeze.

He criticised the hiring of soldiers while garda numbers were dropping, querying if Ireland was under attack and if the country was about to join a war. PDFORRA said it accepted these comments were not intended to denigrate the Defence Forces and called on the organisations to support each other.

"We understand the difficulties confronting An Garda Siochana, whom we serve with as colleagues in uniform all around the country and overseas," it added. "We must find every opportunity to support each other during these challenging times."

Up to 600 vacancies in the Defence Forces are to be filled this year - while a Garda recruitment ban has seen numbers in the force drop 800. Elsewhere, the Association of Garda Superintendents has urged the minister to prioritise 30 empty superintendent posts.

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